Should Psychics Be Banned?

I’m conflicted here.

We already know psychics are frauds, but should the government ban the practice of fortune-tellers? It’s hard to know when we should prevent people from making claims about the future. Where does one draw a line between horoscope writers and pastors who claim that God knows your future?

At least commercials for psychics tend to include the fine print about how they’re for “entertainment purposes only.” (Just like commercials for baldness cures and penis enlargers always say “results may vary” as a way to cover their butts.)

At the same time, I really don’t like what Nick Nefedro is trying to do.

Nefedro is a self-described Gypsy who is suing the city of Bethesda, Maryland because they denied him a license to practice fortune-telling.

Nefedro found a location to rent [for his fortune-telling businesses] about two years ago and applied for a business license. He was denied. In May 2008, he filed a lawsuit, which he lost. Now, with the ACLU on board, he wants to continue the fight.

“I don’t think it’s strange for us to have laws that protect against fraud,” said Clifford Royalty, zoning division chief in the Montgomery County attorney’s office, adding that “religion has nothing to do with it. He’s not made that allegation in the lawsuit.”

“The practice is fraudulent,” Royalty said, “because no one can forecast the future.”

Nefedro insists that he can.

“It’s not like you choose it,” Nefedro said. “You’re born with it.”

He said he noticed at a young age that he saw things that no one else could see.

“Some people just see a palm, or see the cards,” Nefedro said. “I see a sign in it.”

He’s delusional. Yet, I don’t doubt his sincerity. I don’t think he’s trying to intentionally rip people off. He really does believe he has special powers… but that doesn’t mean he’s right.

Maybe a key difference is that he doesn’t think of his “skill” as “entertainment only.”

But how is his sincere belief in his fortune-telling abilities any different from a pastor sincerely telling you he knows what God wants?

Both are quacks, both pay no attention to the evidence against their claims, both take in lots of money, but it makes no sense to say you can allow one but not the other.

For that matter, what about people like Jim Cramer who claim to know where the markets are heading and make money off their (often false) predictions?

(Thanks to Scott for the link!)

  • Nick

    “The practice is fraudulent,” Royalty said, “because no one can forecast the future.”

    For this specific case, I’d like to know why Royalty makes this assertion. Does he base it on science? Or is it a matter of his own particular religious belief telling him fortune telling is false?

    The distinction in general seem to come in the want of a for-profit business license (I’m assuming it’s for profit). All businesses should work to ensure truth in advertising. Churches operate as non-profits when making their claims. So, I suppose, that argument could be made.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    If he can see the future, he should play the lottery or the stock market. Why waste time charging small fees to talk to individual people?

  • Josh BA

    For that matter, what about people like Jim Cramer who claim to know where the markets are heading and make money off their (often false) predictions?

    Maybe we can convince Jon Stewart to have Nick Nefedro on the Daily Show to chew him out over it? The Cramer interview was some of the most entertaining TV I have seen in a long time and I want more :)

  • TJ

    If he can see the future, he should play the lottery or the stock market. Why waste time charging small fees to talk to individual people?

    A person should ask a psychic what the winning numbers will be and if the psychic is wrong or can’t answer, the person should get a refund, or better yet the so-called psychic should be sued for selling a false product and misrepresenting themselves as something they’re not. It’d be like me claiming to be a doctor and performing brain surgery on someone. I’d be sued to hell and back.

    Why should superstitious belief excuse psychics from that kind of rule?

  • Eliza

    His claim in court might go better if he would (could) demonstrate the veracity of his predictions via a controlled experiment. Someone at the James Randi Foundation could help him w/ designing such an experiment. With the lottery, the problem is that he could simply foretell that he won’t win it, & would have a high likelihood of being proven correct in that prediction. (Maryland does have a lottery, but their web page states at the bottom that it’s only a game.)

    According to the article Hemant linked, this guy has had fortunetelling businesses in a number of other locales, but wanted to move back to Bethesda MD. Bethesda is very close to Virginia and to Washington DC, where a quick google search indicates that fortunetelling seems to be legal and flourishing (and the article says this guy’s father practiced fortunetelling in D.C.).

    The article also has this interesting bit suggesting that this guy maybe should incorporate some religious claim into his lawsuit: In Livingston Parish, La., a ban on soothsaying was found to be unconstitutional in 2008 after a Wiccan minister argued that his passing along messages is the same as a Christian minister purporting to proclaim God’s word.

  • Jen

    Hmmm, I am conflicted. I think psychics are frauds and charlatans, but I agree they are no worse than Jim Cramer. I also think there is a difference between “there is a tall dark stranger in your future” and “your child’s body is near water”.

    Generally, I am pro-capitalism, and I think that while it is unfortunate that people pay money for useless sugar pills or alien abductions accounts, I am loathe to make things illegal unless they are actively harmful.

    Having said that, after my grandma’s death, my aunt went to see a psychic and excitedly told us that the guy said my grandfather had a mental illness that was certainly never diagnosed in his lifetime. It bothers me immensely that a cold reading could turn into family lore with time, especially since the man in question is unable to be consulted.

    How about Nick just takes Randi’s Amazing Challenge? He’ll be set for life with that cool million and all the endorsement deals he’ll get afterwards.

  • stephanie

    OK, I misread this headline as “Should Physics Be Banned” and thought the fundies had finally caught up to the fact that gravity was ‘only a theory’ too.

  • Siamang

    I don’t think they should be banned. They should be able to make guesses about the future just like the rest of us.

    They just shouldn’t be allowed to run that swindle for money.

  • Richard

    I don’t see any point to banning them. The instant that we do, they’ll just claim to be religious.

    The only difference will be that they’ll get tax-exemption.

  • Peregrine

    I’ve said before that I don’t think they should be banned. And I’ll spare you the details. But I do think that the whole practice should be discussed more openly, and more often so as to keep it in the realm of a quaint, entertaining, low priced diversion. Let people indulge, as long as they’re aware that it’s just a gimmick.

    Also, if someone out there has some reference material I could use for the next time my wife starts talking about her palm reading, it would be much appreciated.

  • http://yrif.org Joel

    It’s hard to know when we should prevent people from making claims about the future.

    No it’s not. When should we ever prevent people from making claims about the future?!

    This is the second time in two days you’ve come out against freedom of speech.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    This is the second time in two days you’ve come out against freedom of speech.

    Freedom of speech isn’t the problem here (and I don’t want to stop that). It’s charging people for a fake service. It’s fraud. That’s the problem. If he weren’t making money off of this, then it wouldn’t be an issue.

  • Tom

    I think people who want to tell fortunes are protected by the constitutional right to freedom of religion, if they want to claim it’s their religion. Then they should be required to make plain that they are offering religious rituals for money, so that they’re being honest about the services they are offering. Also, christians and other theists will know when they go to this person that they are participating in a religion other than their own. (I’m sure that’ll be great for business, right?)

    However, for those who aren’t claiming that what they’re charging for is religious ritual, I think that people who charge for services should be able to provide some verifiable service. So, if they claim to predict the future they should be able to demonstrate under controlled conditions that they can predict the future on demand when paid to do so, and if they claim to talk to the dead, they should be able to demonstrate under controlled conditions that they do indeed talk to the dead. Otherwise, they should be denied a business license on the grounds that their alleged service is fraudulent.

    There’s a difference between being allowed to legally do something, and being allowed to legally charge money to do something.

    Also, if there is a law requiring a license for psychic services, it needs to be examined. For example, here in Massachusetts the law says that psychics have to be specially licensed by the state government… except, the state office that’s supposed to issue such licenses does not actually exist in practice. So, the state isn’t meeting its obligations under the law, so I would oppose the state trying to penalize anyone for not having the license that is unobtainable. If the state were to actually open said office, or change the law, I would feel differently.

  • thilina

    Excepting money for false promises is fraud, it doesn’t matter if the guy believes in it or not.

    But we allow so many forms of fraud to exist it’s not right to single this out to ban.

    Instead these people (including people like Cramer) who sell predictions should be held to the same standard as people who sell anything else. i.e. If your product if faulty we want our money back.

  • Shane

    No, psychics should not be banned. Caveat emptor. If someone wants to pay him for his “services” (or, even worse, base their lives around it), we do not have the right to interfere and restrict their freedom like that.

    Fraud is another thing, but it is false to say it is fraudulent because “no one can forecast the future”. Anyone can forecast the future. If you are making specific claims about the accuracy of your predictions, THEN that may be grounds for some fraud charges.

  • littlejohn

    Josh BA hit the nail on the head. Study after study has shown that financial analysts do no better than chance at predicting the future of stock investments But my brother-in-law makes a decent living at it.
    And what about alternative medicine? We all know acupuncture doesn’t work (for acupuncture substitute aromatherapy, chiropractic, homeopothy, or whatever your pet peeve is), but the practitioners of these proceedures are certainly doing it for profit. Do we outlaw them as well?
    I hate slippery-slope arguments, but I can’t answer this one. I think we have to let the fortune-tellers alone, and let the buyer beware.

  • Siamang

    We all know acupuncture doesn’t work (for acupuncture substitute aromatherapy, chiropractic, homeopothy, or whatever your pet peeve is), but the practitioners of these proceedures are certainly doing it for profit. Do we outlaw them as well?

    Actually, we do. It’s just not widely enforced.

  • CJ Klok

    Instead of just claiming that whatever Nefedro does is fraudulent, as Royalty did, why not give him the opportunity to demonstrate that his ‘trade’ is indeed legitimate. The courts, or the licencing office’s legal dept. via the courts, can ask Nefedro to describe his ‘talents’, and request from him, based on previous experience, to provide a measure of accuracy. The court can then (potentially in collaboration with the JREF) design a test and select a group of subjects (the group size will depend on the requirements to statistically distinguish between success and random chance). Nefedro will then be given the opportunity to foretell this court appointed group of people’s fortunes after which they will the be monitored to see to which extent Nefedro has been successful. If he hits his target he gets his license. If he does not the court witholds the license and prohibits Nefedro from further applications on the basis of his ‘trade’ being demonstrably fraudulent.

    This might be a way to create legal precedent for allowing the licensing of potentially fraudulent practices – until you can demonstrate that your claims are not fraudulent you are legally not entitled to be licensed to practice them.

  • John L

    How about just make it easier for a person to sue for their money back when their claim comes out false. This way they would have to have people sign an agreement or provide a disclaimer before their reading that states that they have no liability and there’s no guarantees.

    And don’t you love those commercials that ask you to text your secret crushes name as if they can read the people’s thoughts through a cell phone. Those crack me up.

  • http://bakiwop.com bakiwop

    “The practice is fraudulent,” Royalty said, “because no one can forecast the future.” – round up the weathermen and throw them in jail!

    “Some people just see a palm, or see the cards,” Nefedro said. “I see a sign in it.” – if he’s not making claims about his accuracy then he’s not committing fraud, he just sees what he sees.

  • Anon

    Banning something like this will only push it underground and probably won’t solve anything.

    Though some states like New York etc already have statutes against fortune-telling.

    http://law.onecle.com/new-york/penal/PEN0165.35_165.35.html
    http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/crimes-and-offenses/00.071.004.000.html

    Educating the public and teaching critical thinking skills would probably be the better way to go.

    http://www.xenu.net/archive/baloney_detection.html

  • Amyable Atheist

    Hmm…as an urban planner, the detail of this being a zoning permit denial is most interesting (aside from the always relevant argument of skepticism, of course.) Unless/until this “psychic” wises up and puts “priest” on his calling card, there’s another planning approach that might be effective and less complicated than proving fraud – signage regulations disallowing the use of neon or back-lighting – after all, what’s a neighborhood psychic without the ubiquitous pink, glowing hand sign? ;-D

  • CiCi

    Banning psychis is an excellent idea, but unfortunately, also unsound in principle. In addition, banning psychics still will not eliminate the practice, for many of the reasons banning marijuana has failed to prevent smoking pot. Like we all learned in basic economics, demand drives supply – so we need to focus changing people’s demand for questionable practices/beliefs (fortune-telling, religion, etc.) before the supply finally fades away.

  • JulietEcho

    I agree with those who’ve argued that unless a “psychic” makes specific claims about the efficacy of the services provided, it’s all fun and games.

    People are always going to want entertainment, false hope, belief in mystery, a feeling of whatever-the-hell gets them to keep going to quacks for all kinds of advice. The important thing is making sure that such quacks are only registered/endorsed/etc. as the equivalent of entertainment – not something that can seriously help with real-life problems.

  • Delphine

    As someone who’s also an urban planner, I would say if you want to exclude him out of the city because of fraud, then you also need to exclude magicians, faith healers, aromatherapists, alternative medicine doctors, and a number of other professions.

    I don’t think it’s up to the zoning administrator to determine what is fraud and what is not, and there’s a good chance they’re stepping on free speech by not allowing it in any of their zoning districts. If a state or city wants to sign it into law that it’s illegal, that’s another matter.

    I say this guy has a good chance of winning.

  • Dan W

    I’m always highly skeptical of any attempts to predict the future, no matter who they are- crazies like this Nefedro guy who claims to be “psychic” and stock market “experts” who think they can accurately predict how the market will go in the future alike. Anybody can make a prediction about the future, but it’s likely to be wild guesswork unless you’re a Time Lord who’s already been to the future. I could predict that Kim-Jong-Il will die of health problems in 6 months, but that doesn’t mean that will actually happen; it’s just a random guess, and I have no way of knowing if it’ll come true.

  • Ken Loukinen

    I actually am thinking opposite on this topic and want to support psychics for a tax exemption!… hear me out.

    Psychic ability, tarot cards, palm readings, to those that want to believe it are as real as jesus or other gods. They require the same amount of faith and offer the same amount of evidence.

    I would (tongue in cheek) support their tax exemption, knowing it would fail, but it would show the absurdity of religion and their tax exempt status.

    Now I just need to find some psychics greedy enough to want the exemption… but they probably already know my plan.

  • Richard P

    I wonder how the predictions the christians make that were all going to burn in hell is any different, yet we don’t ban the churches and they suck way more money in false promises that this guy ever will.

  • http://carolyn-ann.blogspot.com/ Carolyn Ann

    It’s a pure First Amendment issue.

    The government has no right to regulate what he says, or where he says it. As long as he keeps his place of business in compliance with health and safety laws – no one can not permit him his right to sell his services. (If he was doing something illegal, that would be different. Fortunately, he’s on solid freedom of religion and speech grounds.

    The government, and his neighbors, are under no obligation to like what he does for a living – but I’m sure they’re not willing to tell people they can’t spend money for his services. After all, who wants the government telling us how to spend our money? (Taxes notwithstanding.)

    He may be a fraud, he may very well be delusional. But he is within his rights. Let’s be careful judging him, lest the same perplexion be turned our way.

    After all – are we about to ban belief? Perhaps others might like to ban non-belief?

    Carolyn Ann

  • Nigel H

    A scammer is a scammer is a scammmer, people can use all sorts of arguments but dishonsty is just that, no matter how it’s disguised, it’s bad enough that priests can peddle their lies now another gypsy scammer is getting in on the action……ENOUGH ALREADY……

  • keddaw

    Christians, from their book, should be killing this guy. Leviticus 20:27 among others.

    Anyway… the difference between religion and psychics and their ilk is that religion has the massive get out clause that it is, by its nature, impossible to disprove. Psychics, accupuncture etc. can all be proven/disproven by clinical or laboratory trials.

    Thus psychics should be allowed to practice, as long as they make no unjustifiable claims about the efficacy of their service. Churches can claim what they want as there is no proving it either way.

    Yes, psychics will prey on the vulnerable members of society at the worst moments in their lives but so may any form of slimy salesperson. e.g. I have seen real estate agents undersell a house from a grieving relative to their friend and resell higher and split the profits. So we should be trying to protect the vulnerable in society but from all predators, not just psychics.

    As a slight aside, any ‘newspaper’ which runs a horoscope column should not be allowed to call itself a newspaper. Write to the editor, boycott the publication and let them know why.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    There is a psychic coffee shop not far from my house. They sell really good coffee, much better than Starbucks and a lot more relaxing. I should make it clear that the shop isn’t psychic. There is a shop that sells coffee, cakes and “psychic readings”. They offer a service that the public are free to enjoy if they wish.

    There is also a homeopathy shop that sells bottles of water and bags of dried fruit and veg. Again this is a service that they sell that people can enjoy.

    There is also a chiropractor in the same street (it sounds like I live in the middle ages doesn’t it) who sells a service that people can enjoy.

    If you travel a few miles you can pay someone to take you and your friends on a “ghost walk” through an old town or city where you will be frightened by stories of ghosts and murderers and have strangely dressed students jump out at you or play act in the street in an effort to frighten you.

    I think that they are all jokes. There is nothing that any of them do that has any basis in reality beyond the human enjoyment of story telling. If someone wants to sell you a story and you want to buy it then no bureaucrat should stand in your way.

    Rather than limit the rights of these tale spinners to practice their art we should educate people so that they know that they are selling stories. Let them sell psychic cures and bottles of “magic” water and let people laugh at them and enjoy their tall tales.

    Or you could follow the biblical advice and stone them to death. Leviticus 20:27 A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.

  • http://rationallyright.blogspot.com/ Jay

    Hemant said:

    Freedom of speech isn’t the problem here (and I don’t want to stop that). It’s charging people for a fake service. It’s fraud. That’s the problem. If he weren’t making money off of this, then it wouldn’t be an issue.

    I don’t know. People charge for speech all the time. If this psychic were writing a book and charging people for it would there be an issue? Does it matter if the people reading the book think its a lark or the real deal? What if we were talking about an magician? Would children not be allowed to see the act because they believe it to be real? As a libertarian I get really scared of these kinds of value judgments from government agencies.

  • Jim

    The guy that applied for the license is the one that made the absurd assertion, not the person that denied it. I’m sure if he was more truthful and forthcoming in his original mission statement then he could be allowed the license. Those caveats are there for a reason, without them it’s all fraudulent and the city is doing its job in protecting their citizens.

  • Aj

    If you’re selling a service but not delivering the service then that’s fraud. This doesn’t fall under freedom of religion or freedom of speech, if that was the case then people could just claim religion to get away with fraud whenever they want. The law does not protect crimes done with religious underpinnings.

    Religions often claim things that can be disproven, but even in the cases where it can’t, it’s still fraud. Indulgences are fraud, but it cannot be proven that they don’t work. However a lawyer that fails to carry out the wishes of a dead client would rightly be charged with fraud, even if his defence was “I had faith that it would get done on its own”.

    Cheap fortune tellers talking about tall dark strangers are misdemeanors but there are psychics that are cruel. Any psychic claiming to know where a missing child’s body is and charging parents lots of money should be in a cell. Any detective using psychics should be disciplined severely.

    If a secular person made the unjustifiable claims psychics make, and lie about how they can make those claims but using plausible justification, then they would be charged as criminals. Yet a religious person does the same and its fine because it’s “protected under the first amendment”. Fuck that.

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    This kind of stuff irks me to no end.

    “Psychics” are not necessarily frauds or delusional. “Psychic” readings are not necessarily wrong.

    Being able to consistently perform cold readings is a skill. Understanding people takes wisdom. Because the “psychic” uses floopy metaphors (that happen to resonate with their clients) doesn’t make them any less valuable for what they do — provide a sounding board and telling a person what they usually already know. Just because “psychic” abilities are not magic doesn’t mean they’re not something. Are there “shyster” “psychics?” Of course, just like there are shysters in any other profession.

    If people like Ben Underwood can see using echolocation, why can’t someone else’s mind interpret subtle microexpressions as an aura? We might look at someone and say to ourselves, “that person looks mean” while a “psychic’s” mind may perceive a black aura. Both may be picking up on and correctly interpreting certain physiological clues but their mind has a different way of perceiving those clues.

    Remember, a truly skeptical response is going to be “what is this” rather than “this isn’t real.”

  • http://www.religionacademy.com/ David

    Hemant,

    I don’t know if you are still monitoring this month-old post, but I have been wanting to respond.

    As a person who has abandoned all hope that organized religion can be a totally positive, honest, and safe experience for anyone, I generally find your posts extremely right on point, so to speak. But when you (and others) go to the extreme of denying the possibility of a whole range of experiences (or claims of experiences) such as was done in this post, I have to wonder if you have gone too far. When rejecting religion, it is so easy to jump to the opposite extreme and deny anything except pure rationality. And I have always believed that extremes of any kind were off-base.

    Personally, I think this is a terrible mistake. For one thing, pure rationality is just as likely to result in extremely nasty behavior as is irrational religionism. I am thinking of mass murderers, for example, people disconnected from feeling. So when you congratulate yourself on the sophistication of your views, you might want to tone down the one-sidedness. Rationalist without heart is just as dangerous as the insanity of religious delusion.

    For clarity, I have a very committed and active spiritual life. I refuse to allow this experience to be captured within the confines of any human-derived system, such as religion (or politics). I remain open-minded and ready to respond to new information at all times. I believe in rigorous thinking and careful assessment of evidence. And I believe that extreme rationalism is just as removed from reality as is irrational religionism.

    I agree with the Toltecs, who say that 1) we don’t have the cognitive equipmment to grasp “ultimate reality”, whatever that is. Therefore, 2) any attempt to put forward a system that claims to be systematic and complete (such as religions typically do) is doomed to ridiculous failure. And 3) this includes rationalist approaches, just as it most assuredly includes religion and politics. Of course, we create systems anyway, because it’s fun. We just have to avoid taking them too seriously. This is the biggest mistake that fundamentalists of any persuasion make – to mistake their mental creations for ultimate reality. A clear sign of psychological issues, wouldn’t you agree?

    I am reminded of a lesson I learned from the study of anthropology, and in particular, the study of shamanism. Until the 1960′s, anthropologists studying shamanic practices in third-world countries observed the events and activities from outside, and imposed their (the academic’s) cultural perspectives onto the shamanic experiences. Then Michael Harner determined that he could not really understand what these people were about unless he directly experienced life the way they did, which means he had to participate fully in the shamanic activities as if they were real. The lesson I learned from this is that unless you have had an experience yourself, you have nothing meaningful to say about it, and it is likely that anything you say will be nothing more than the projection of your personal and cultural prejudices. Not exactly truth!

    So Hemant, for all those “supernaturalistic” experiences that you automatically demean because they don’t fit your perspective, I wonder if your have actually had or witnessed any of these experiences? If so, I might quibble about your assessment of the experiences, but you would certainly have the right to your interpretation. If you have not had some or all of those experiences, I would conclude that you are merely opionionating, which is a lot like breaking wind, when you pontificate about them. Have you had these experiences or not?

    Let me give you an example. As a person who lives in Virginia Beach, and therefore in the shadow of Edgar Cayce (the so-called “Sleeping Prophet”), I run into a lot of people who claim to be psychic. (I also run into a lot of Pat Robertson’s Army of Delusion, but that’s another story). In my experience, which includes direct observation and informal testing, I have come to the conclusion that there were a few, a handful, who were genuinely able to perceive information that they could not have known any through other means than intuition (or whatever they want to call it). A large number are really second-rate and therefore useless. The bulk are either fooling themselves or are delusional. To automatically discount the few because of the antics of the many is not honest, although it certainly is good reason for skepticism of individual claims.

    Another example. I forget the details, but about 30 years ago a couple in a neighboring town (Portsmouth or Suffolk ???), applied for a permit to have a fortune-telling business. They were trying to do the right thing as law-abiding citizens. Of course the application was rejected, but what I found interesting was the situation. A whole bunch of people were reported to have spoken at the town council meeting. All spoke against the application, and ALL represented a religious community or interest or perspective. Of course, the town council in question didn’t have the courage to stand up to this blatant violation of the separation of church and state, but can we really blame them?

    So the interesting twist about demeaning psychics and their ilk is that you could, in a roundabout and weird way, be aligning yourself with the very religion nuts that you claim to be distancing yourself from in your rationalism. And you could, at the same time, be just as removed from the truth as they are, the truth being probably somewhere in the middle.

    Food for thought…well, maybe a snack.

    Regards,

    David

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    David, there is an issue here that I think you are missing and that is one of discernment. Take a step back and look objectively on the claims of psychics, the claims of those who have had religious experiences and the claims of those who claim to foretell the future through some artifice like magic cards or tea leaves. Why should any of these claims be accepted? What merits does one claim have above the others? It isn’t evidence because evidence is lacking for any supernatural claim. If evidence existed it wouldn’t be called supernatural at all.

    How then do you discern which beliefs to take and which to ignore? Personal testimony of others is unreliable, untestable and subject to deliberate fraud particularly in the case of people with something to gain. Personal experience is coloured by your own desires, a psychic experience is likely to be confirmation bias at work rather than genuine. How can you choose?

    In every single scientific test of psychic abilities the psychics have failed. They resist testing and claim that laboratory conditions interfere with their abilities. Hardly the honest and open policy of someone willing to explore and share their abilities.

    All that said there might be some truth to psychic claims. We should approach these claims with scepticism and test each one thoroughly. If any stand up to the rigours of scientific enquiry then they deserve to be hailed as the truth. You simply cannot claim something is true simply because you would like it to be. That is what religious people do.

  • http://www.religionacademy.com/ David

    hoverFrog,

    Wow, your post is so full of digressions, it is hard to know where to begin.

    Accusing someone of lack of discernment is really a technique for putting them down and dismissing them. It’s a lot like the fundamentalist technique of dismissing someone because they are not a “believer”. It actually says more about you than about me. From my perspective, I have a great deal of discernment, so which of us is “right’? Depends on perspective.

    This is more about the politics of experience. If I have an experience and that experience does not fit within another person’s framework, does the other person have the right to dismiss my experience, to act like he knows me better than I know myself? It sounds like you believe that psychics are all frauds, while I have had the experience of a few (very few to be sure) who were very good. So which of is is “right”? If you haven’t shared my experience, you have no right to dismiss mine. The safest thing to say is “I don’t know”.

    For example, lots of people believe in angels and fairies. Most, but not all, such believers I would consider to be silly and shallow. But since I myself have never had an experience of either, the only thing I can actually, truthfully say is “I don’t know. I’ve never had the experience, so I have to withhold judgment.”

    Yes, you are absolutely correct about the wish-fulfillment aspects of many such experiences, and these tendencies are absolutely grounds for maintaining a skeptical attitude. You are also quite on target about the unreliability of witness testimony, but then I would regard all opinionating as equally suspect (even my own). I personally would define skepticism as an approach that withholds judgment, not an approach that requires judgment on activities I disapprove of and have prejudices against.

    Have you actually read the scientific literature on parapsychology, or have you accepted as gospel the opinions of the skeptical community (Skeptical Inquirer, for example)? What makes you assume that their absolutism represents truth? There is substantial scientific evidence that information can be obtained through non-physical means, call it what you would like. Not overwhelming proof, to be sure. And I don’t think that parapsychologists really have a handle on how intuition functions, so they haven’t figured out a good way to test that actually mimics how psychics claim to function. But that’s not the same as saying it is impossible. I have a graduate level education in scientific research methodology, both qualitative and quantitative, and I believe you are misrepresenting the state of affairs, passing off opinions for “truths”.

  • Siamang

    I lived the spiritual side, David.

    Hoverfrog is right, it’s all bunk.

    And that’s my direct experience, as a former believer.

    Which means you can’t dismiss it, by your own rules.

  • http://www.religionacademy.com/ David

    Acknowledged.

  • Aj

    David,

    The logical fallacy argumentum ad temperantiam. Your judgement of the “extremes” is arbitrary and has nothing to do with the truth. We can be guided to the truth by evidence, it doesn’t matter where the middle is, that’s not a good rule of thumb at all.

    The logical fallacy false dichotomy. Rational people can still have values. Being rational does not mean you don’t feel, don’t have emotions, or don’t care about other people. If you believe rational thought will lead to murder then you’re projecting values when rationality is value neutral.

    Many scientists are able to say meaningful things about events they have not experienced. Physicists have said what certain astronomical phenomena would be like, and then the evidence has been witnessed much later for that phenomena. Human beings are incredible machines at modelling what they have had no experience of.

    Personal experience is not reliable at all, anyone with a graduate level education in scientific research methodology would know about how to perform a study to validate psychic phenomena, direct observation and informal testing is not good enough. People can be fooled consistently, even the smartest among us.

    I have not been persuaded by any studies on psychic abilities. I’m unaware of any quality study on psychic ability that has shown any evidence for it. Substantial doesn’t mean what you appear to think it means. Many low qualify studies with limited “proof” is not substantive.

    I’m surprised anyone would claim that there’s scientific evidence that information can be obtained through non-physical means. That’s an argument from ignorance to start with. No known physical means, doesn’t mean non-physical. That’s not a scientific stance.

    I don’t understand why anyone would care whether they align themselves with religious people if religious people happen to be right, even if they irrationally got to the right answer. It seems entirely irrational to believe in something without evidence because religious people don’t believe in it. What matters is that you rationally thought the thing through.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    David wrote

    Wow, your post is so full of digressions, it is hard to know where to begin.

    Start at the beginning and work down.

    Accusing someone of lack of discernment is really a technique for putting them down and dismissing them.

    It is also a way of accusing someone of a lack of discernment.

    It actually says more about you than about me.

    I really wasn’t trying to be personal, that would be an ad hominem approach. I prefer to keep my arguments to the points raised.

    From my perspective, I have a great deal of discernment, so which of us is “right’? Depends on perspective.

    No, it depends on the evidence. We might both be wrong, one of us might be right, or by some twist of fate we could both be right. Only the objective examination of the evidence can resolve the issue.

    This is more about the politics of experience. If I have an experience and that experience does not fit within another person’s framework, does the other person have the right to dismiss my experience, to act like he knows me better than I know myself?

    If someone makes a claim that is not backed up with evidence then it is safe to defer judgment until such evidence is provided. If the claim runs counter to the evidence or evidence is consistently lacking then it is safe to dismiss the claim until such time as evidence is forthcoming. It really doesn’t matter what the claim is, if you’ve no evidence then I can make whatever assumptions I like about the claim.

    It sounds like you believe that psychics are all frauds, while I have had the experience of a few (very few to be sure) who were very good.

    Not all frauds, I’m sure some of them believe every word of what they sell. I’m also sure that some are very, very good at what they do. That doesn’t mean that what they do is genuinely psychic though.

    So which of is is “right”? If you haven’t shared my experience, you have no right to dismiss mine. The safest thing to say is “I don’t know”.

    OK then, I don’t know if your experiences are proof of psychic abilities but I don’t think they are. I don’t think psychic abilities exist. Which of us is right. I know, let’s look at the evidence. Let’s examine the laboratory tests of psychics. Oh dear, not a single claim has ever been successfully shown to be truthful. What conclusions can I draw from the evidence?

    For example, lots of people believe in angels and fairies. Most, but not all, such believers I would consider to be silly and shallow.

    That’s very generous of you. I would say all such claims are silly and shallow.

    But since I myself have never had an experience of either, the only thing I can actually, truthfully say is “I don’t know. I’ve never had the experience, so I have to withhold judgment.”

    Why on earth would you do that? Someone makes an outrageous claim, doesn’t back it up with evidence and expects you to go along with it and you say “I don’t know”. Good grief, you’re much more polite than I am. I’d call them a liar or a delusional fool.

    Of course I might be wrong and then I’d have to apologise. I am prepared to take that risk.

    You are also quite on target about the unreliability of witness testimony, but then I would regard all opinionating as equally suspect (even my own).

    Really? Forgive my bluntness but you don’t seem to be applying this scepticism to your own opinions. Why aren’t you asking for the evidence?

    I personally would define skepticism as an approach that withholds judgment, not an approach that requires judgment on activities I disapprove of and have prejudices against.

    Really? I define it as an attitude of doubt or incredulity, a questioning of any claim in order to ascertain the truth.

    Have you actually read the scientific literature on parapsychology

    Yes, some of it is quite funny.

    What makes you assume that their absolutism represents truth?

    You know what “assume” makes? The only thing that makes the truth is testing the claim against reality.

    There is substantial scientific evidence that information can be obtained through non-physical means, call it what you would like.

    What do you mean by non-physical means? I’m guessing that you don’t mean the various methods of examining the energy output of objects?

    And I don’t think that parapsychologists really have a handle on how intuition functions, so they haven’t figured out a good way to test that actually mimics how psychics claim to function.

    Oh intuition. Parapsychologists may not have a handle on it but psychologists do have some suggestions.

    I have a graduate level education in scientific research methodology, both qualitative and quantitative, and I believe you are misrepresenting the state of affairs, passing off opinions for “truths”.

    Good for you, I’m only a humble engineer. Pragmatically speaking opinions don’t hold a lot of weight compared to evidence. Present your evidence and, if I find it compelling, I’ll admit to being wrong.

  • James H

    I am a professional psychic and astrologer. I am also a professional pilot. In order for me to practice the psychic arts for money, I had to go through an extremely frustrating background check that was more difficult than any aircraft certification I’ve been through. I’m an airline transport pilot, flight instructor with 3 type ratings and 5000 hours of flight time.

    As far as predicting the future, I will admit that it impossible to predict what will happen in the future with 100% certainty. I enjoy working with the people that pay me to give them a reading and from my perspective I have made some accurate predictions for clients and they willingly pay for my services. It is simply using archetypal imagery to trigger speculation on what could happen. If that offends you, PLEASE do not purchase a reading from me. I ask in return the freedom to play with this stuff without persecution.

    I have a feeling that this guy had something in his background that made him ineligible for his license….or he was being a complete ass to the authorities.

  • clay walker

    All of this doesnt matter. Its in the media now but in a month no one will give a shit about any of this. Let these assholes rip people off who choose to belive them, not my problem and when it does concern me then Ill deal with it personally. Someone fucks me or a family member over, theyll go fishing and never come back.


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